From VOA News: Complete Coverage
Presidential Inaugurals: Where Past and Future Come Together
Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm
I'm Barbara Klein. On Tuesday, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the
forty-fourth president of the United
States. This week on our program, we look at
presidential inaugurations, past and present.
Inauguration Day used to be March fourth
under the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution. In the old days, it took a
long time to count the votes from the November elections. Then the winners had
to travel to the capital.
But the Twentieth Amendment shortened
the transition period between administrations. It moved inaugurations to January
Roosevelt was the last president inaugurated in March. That was in nineteen
thirty-three. Four years later, he became the first president inaugurated in
This was George W. Bush
being sworn-in by Chief Justice William Rehnquist in two thousand one.
WILLIAM REHNQUIST: "Please raise your right hand
and repeat after me. I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear ... "
GEORGE BUSH: "I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly
swear ... "
WILLIAM REHNQUIST: "That I will faithfully execute
the office of president of the United States ... "
GEORGE BUSH: "That I will faithfully execute the
office of president of the United States ... "
WILLIAM REHNQUIST: "And will, to the best of my
GEORGE BUSH: "And will, to the best of my ability
WILLIAM REHNQUIST: "Preserve, protect and defend
the Constitution of the United States ... "
GEORGE BUSH: ""Preserve, protect and defend
the Constitution of the United States ... "
WILLIAM REHNQUIST: "So help me God."
GEORGE BUSH: "So help me God."
WILLIAM REHNQUIST: "Congratulations."
The words of the oath are in the Constitution -- all
except "so help me God." That was added by tradition. Who began the
George Washington maybe. Or maybe not. There is debate.
Remember, this was long before tape recorders and YouTube. The best that
historians can say is that the oath has ended with "so help me God" at
least since Chester Arthur's inauguration in eighteen eighty-one.
tradition we know George Washington began was the inaugural speech. The
Constitution does not require it. Washington gave the shortest one ever -- just
one hundred thirty-five words --during his second inauguration in seventeen
The longest inaugural address on record
was given by William Henry Harrison in eighteen forty-one. He spoke for almost
two hours on a cold and rainy day, without a hat or overcoat. He caught a cold,
which became pneumonia. He died a month later.
first outdoor ceremony was James Monroe's inauguration in eighteen seventeen.
Inaugurations are held at the United States Capitol --
the legislative building with the big white dome. In eighteen twenty-nine,
Andrew Jackson had the first one held on the completed east front of the
Capitol. Future presidents followed.
ever since Ronald Reagan in nineteen eighty-one, presidents have been
inaugurated on the west side. It faces the long grassy area known as the National
Some of the best-remembered words of presidents came
from their inaugural addresses. In nineteen thirty-three, during the Great Depression,
Franklin Roosevelt sought to give hope with these words:
FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT: "Let me assert my firm belief
that the only thing to fear is fear itself."
And in nineteen sixty-one, during the Cold War with the
Soviet Union, John Kennedy urged people to take an active part in the future:
JOHN KENNEDY: "And so, my fellow Americans, ask
not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. My
fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what
together we can do for the freedom of man."
Abraham Lincoln made what many historians consider the
best inaugural speeches of all. The end of his first one reads like poetry as
he appeals for unity in a country under threat of civil war.
READER: We are not enemies, but friends. We must
not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of
affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and
patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land,
will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will
be, by the better angels of our nature.
Barack Obama plans to honor the sixteenth president, one
of his political heroes, at his own inauguration. He will place his hand on the
same Bible that Lincoln used at his first inauguration in eighteen sixty-one.
The book is kept by the Library of Congress and has never been used at another
swearing-in. Lincoln used a different Bible at his second inauguration.
Washington was the first president to place his hand on a Christian Bible when
taking the oath of office. Since then, bibles have been used with rare
John Quincy Adams used a law book. He was very religious and thought
the Bible should be used only for religious purposes.
the Constitution, religion and government are supposed to be separate. So why
did George Washington use a religious symbol? Donald Kennon is vice president
of the United States Capitol Historical Society. He says the idea came from
England, America's former colonial power.
DONALD KENNON: "It
was a tradition in Anglo-American culture to swear oaths on a Bible."
George Washington was a military hero.
So was the seventh president, Andrew Jackson, who took office in eighteen
twenty-nine. By the time of his election, most white adult males could vote.
They no longer had to meet requirements for owning a lot of property.
Donald Kennon says Jackson was considered the first "people's
president." And that was not all.
DONALD KENNON: "Andrew Jackson's inauguration was
the first at which large crowds of American citizens witnessed the swearing-in
ceremony, the parade, and went to the White House following the swearing-in
ceremony at the Capitol. There was such a large crowd that a ship's cable, a
heavy rope, was stretched across the portico to separate the crowd from Jackson
as he took the oath and delivered his inaugural address.
"The crowd followed him to the White House to take part
in the inaugural celebration. There were so many people — and at that time a
crowd of twenty thousand people was a very, very large crowd. There are reports
that the White House was trashed and that the servants at the White House had
to take the punch and refreshments out onto the lawn in order to get the people
out of the White House, and prevent them from damaging it even further."
Margaret Smith, a leader in Washington society at that
time, wrote a letter describing the scene:
Ladies fainted, men were seen with bloody noses and
such a scene of confusion took place as is impossible to describe -- those who
got in could not get out by the door again, but had to scramble out of windows.
one time, the president who had retreated and retreated until he was pressed
against the wall, could only be secured by a number of gentlemen forming round
him and making a kind of barrier of their own bodies.
Barack Obama's inaugural ceremony will
include poetry by Elizabeth Alexander and music by singer Aretha Franklin,
violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
will be offered by Joseph Lowery, a well-known civil rights leader from
Atlanta, and by Rick Warren. He leads a big church in California and has sold
millions of copies of books about "The Purpose Driven Life."
Some supporters of the president-elect deplored his inviting
Pastor Warren because he opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
Joe Biden will be sworn-in as vice president. Then he
will join the new president and their families for a luncheon inside the Capitol.
This will be followed by the inaugural parade with marching bands and floats along
Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.
the evening, the new president and first lady Michelle Obama will attend the ten
official inaugural balls. These are big celebrations that bring out a lot of
powerful and wealthy people. This time, with the economy in a bad
recession, some guests may not be as wealthy as they were. But inaugural balls
are supposed to be a time to dance and have fun.
People will also attend many other parties and unofficial
balls around the Washington area. Kenya -- the birthplace of Barack Obama's
father -- will host the Africa and International Friends Inaugural Ball.
Private donations help cover inaugural costs. The events
this year could cost more than the record forty-two million dollars spent four
years ago. Mister Obama's goal is to raise forty to forty-five million.
His inaugural committee Web site is naming donors who
have given two hundred dollars or more. The limit for individual contributions
is fifty thousand dollars.
have been preparing for as many as two million people at the inauguration of
the first African-American president. The expectation of record crowds has
created extra security and transportation problems.
people will probably just stay home and watch the events on television. But some
hotels and ski areas away from the city are offering special rates for people
who want to avoid the crowds.
Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced
by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Barbara Klein. VOA will have
full coverage of Barack Obama's inauguration on radio, TV and the Internet.
Live video will begin at sixteen hours thirty Universal Time Tuesday at
usavotes2008.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special